Every now and then you have the opportunity to work on a project that makes you a better filmmaker. A project where everything you do is half a step beyond what you thought you were capable of. This magical place is something we are constantly reaching for at New Sky. Flying a drone 3 feet off the ground at 30 mph, check. Chasing a Porsche GT3 RS down an unpopulated desert highway while riding in the passenger seat, check. Sometimes we are asked to work longer, dig deeper, fly faster, get closer and that’s where the fun begins.
The team at New Sky was approached several months ago by an old friend asking us to take part in a project he had cooking with a few other filmmakers. It was going to be a lean, run-and-gun style shoot with a focus on telling the best possible story. Our charge was to capture aerial footage of an orange Porsche GT3 RS ripping down dusty highways and carving its way through a dry lake bed from a drone. We were in.
The video project revolved around Ryan Basseri’s dream to rebuild a run down Acura Integra and turn it into an incredible race machine. His build was heavily influenced by his favorite car, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Over the course of the project I found Ryan to be an extremely nice dude. He’s curious, funny and is a mad man behind the wheel. The guy has gasoline in his veins and will enthusiastically explain every detail of his build. Ryan owns and runs a specialty car wiring company called Rywire that produces some of the worlds best engine harnesses.
The crew consisted of some extremely talented filmmakers. Benjamin Ariff was the projects producer, Jon Carr was the director and David C. Weldon Jr. was the project’s DP. This team has a knack for cinematic flair so I was honored to help. Also on the team was Will Miller, the project’s sound ninja and we were lucky enough to work with Zac Dunn and Anthony Gelinas as 1st AC and Grip.
The team was one of the first crews in the US to work with the new Canon C300 mk2. The camera exceeded the teams expectations in several ways. David noted that the expanded dynamic range made it preform very well. The C300 Mk2 also fit in well with the doc style shooting as it’s updated autofocus system allowed the filmmakers to capture difficult shots without a focus puller.
I knew this was going to be a challenging aerial shoot with zero room for mistakes. Filming doc style holds a special place in our hearts as it’s where we come from at New Sky. Filming in this style even with aerials means that you need to get the shot as quickly as you can. We decided to go with Jinx, our DJI Inspire 1 drone for this project.
The shoot was likely to be somewhat run and gun. Our Producer Benjamin Ariff and director Jon Carr spent many days working through ideal locations, scouting and tracking ideal lighting conditions. We had most of our locations locked down but there was always room to grab a pickup shot here and there. I wanted to be as nimble and flexible as possible. The Inspire 1 drone is a system I can safely deploy in under 5 minutes. Every second counts when you’re chasing light.
Another consideration was the likelihood of high winds. When you’re working in the desert the one thing you can really count on is wind. It also happens to be a major challenge when striving for smooth drone footage. Knowing that our Inspire 1 drone could easily handle winds in excess of 25mph made it an easy choice. This ability came in handy as there were times where the wind clocked over 20 mph.
DAY ONE – An Evening Flight For The Inspire 1 Drone
On our first day we spend the afternoon cruising out to our first location just north of Palm Springs, CA. There are some really interesting wind farms near the city that the team wanted to use as a backdrop. Location one was an abandoned road that parallelled a straight line of wind turbines. The turbines were just far enough away to provide some interesting contrast. As the team setup the C300 Mk2 I found a great vantage point to fly from about a quarter mile away from the crew. Ryan drove several passes where I was able to do a few elevated orbits, chase shots and a fun jib down where I dropped from 25 ft to 10ft as his car passed under the drone.
DAY TWO – A Hot Cup of Morning Drone
Our second day was an early one. We spent the morning just south of Palm Desert, CA. The team found an incredible stretch of highway that made seven 180 degree turns in 4 miles. It was a drivers paradise that resembled a giant serpent. We had the car rigged, drone prepped, BTS shot all before first light. I wanted the drone to capture the grandeur of this serpentine landscape so I started with a sweeping reveal. I lifted the drone off and put it just on the other side of a brush covered hilltop. I had the camera tilted down about 30 degrees as I flew north over the hill to reveal the winding road below. (0:41s in the highlight reel above)
A few hours after sunrise we wrapped our first location of the day and headed North through Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. Ben and I were in the scout car so we sped ahead of the crew to pin down pickup locations. We grabbed a few shots with Ryan over the afternoon as we drove.
As the sky crept into golden hour we ended up circling back a few miles to rejoin the ground crew. We found them setup off the side of the highway rigging up the GT3. As we approached Jon wanted the drone in the air right away. I had fortunately gone through my pre-flight inspection in the car so I was able to do an environmental safety check and deploy quickly. I’m glad we were able to as the shot ended up in the film.
DAY THREE – Flying The Drone From A Porsche GT3 RS
Day three was our longest and most productive. We started in darkness as usual and setup in between two rocky hilltops. It was an amazing location as the desert colors and morning light made the orange Porsche GT3 come to life. I setup the drone atop one of the rocky hills so I could get a shot of Ryan ripping down the road.
After the ground crew finished their follow shots I grabbed the Inspire and jumped into the GT3 with Ryan.
One of my favorite aerial shots to film as a single operator is a vehicle chase. It’s complicated, takes a lot of control and is a great way to show off a moving subject. I had Ryan drive about a half mile down the road so we could put some distance between us and the crew. We pulled over, I pealed myself out then setup Jinx 10 feet behind the car.
The Inspire maxes out around 45mph so I needed Ryan to keep the GT3 under 30mph to pull off the shot. The GT3 is such a fast car that it meant Ryan had to stay in first gear. Sorry Ryan…
Back in the car I bring the drone to a hover 10 feet away and 10 feet off the ground behind us. I start the pursuit as soon as we pull onto the road.
The wind was a slight challenge as we crept down the hwy. There were a few occasions where I had to circle back behind the car due to wind gusts. We drove for about 15 minutes and that time I was able to grab some solid tracking orbits, a few flyovers and a hand full of off angle follow shots.
We ended the day and the shoot at one of the coolest locations I’ve filmed from the air. A dry lake bed outside of Barstow. This was a place where Ryan could really open the GT3 up. It was also one of the first locations I’ve filmed where there were zero environmental obstructions. This meant that I could safely see what the Inspire 1 was capable of. The wind on the lake bed was relatively high and even then, old Jinxy did not disappoint. With David’s direction, we were able to pull off some close follow shots, fast orbits, ripping overflights and smooth jib shots.
While filming on the dry lake bed we were visited by the Inspire’s older adopted step uncle, the General Atomics Predator drone. It circled high above the lake bed for several hours while we were filming. Fortunately for us it was high enough, and far enough away that we could share the air. We were flying below 20 feet and If there was any risk of getting in it’s way Jinx would not have been unpacked. It was a cool feeling having the ever watchful eye of the predator far to our east.
This project was an honor to be a part of. Collaborative filmmaking extremely satisfying as we are able to work outside our typical process, see things in new ways and form new relationships.
Over the next few Months I will get into more detail on how we achieved some of the shots in this project. For now, watch the film on YouTube. You can also watch the behind the scenes feature on how the project was made.